The definitive farewell? to the Olympic Games as an instrument of politics
Juan Antonio Belmar
May 21, 2024

The IOC is redirecting its criteria for awarding the Olympic Games and is seeking to reduce the investment for the big summer events in Paris, Los Angeles and Brisbane to a third. They are the greatest sporting expression in the world and for 15 days passion, success and failure are part of the evolution of sports heroes, many of them anonymous, who burst in and seek glory in a magical, unique environment, where sports venues, television, the Internet and social networks catapult them. For their part, the host countries must respond to this level of expectations of athletes, leaders and the general public with investments that are allocated by the International Olympic Committee and that can be quadrupled for different and powerful reasons.

Let’s take a sample of the last 20 years, in which the host cities of the Summer and Winter Olympic Games have invested a stratospheric amount around these two events, causing in many cases the rejection of the population and, in other cases, mortgaging the economy of a country that is not in the front line, as was the case of Athens, Greece. The authorities at that time -June 2004- delivered the amount committed for the realization of the games. The sum originally amounted to US$ 7.209 billion and, in the end, Greece had to take US$ 18.2 billion out of the tax coffers. Moreover, strictly speaking, these games were to be held in 1996, but Atlanta was chosen, forgetting the origins of the Olympic Games in the modern era -Athens 1896-, the principles and values of the Olympic Charter were of little value and the economic issue took precedence over the history of the games themselves.

FROM ATHENS TO THE MONSTROUS BEIJING 2008

Four years later in Beijing 2008, China’s bet was to show a powerful financial muscle without limits. For the same reason, they were convinced that this was the opportunity to tell the West and the whole world that they are the economic power of the present and the future. Beijing invested 50 billion dollars, literally built an unprecedented Olympic Park, in addition to 31 sports venues. Then, the venues dazzled, their design and architecture challenged the most brilliant minds to come up with an organization of excellence.

Up to this point, no one had pronounced on putting limits to the economic gigantism of the Olympic Games, and even Athens was quickly forgotten, because its reality was unmatched by the mighty China. The ‘Silenzio Stampa’ of those who selected the venues and then voted for one of them continues to be a source of sorrow in this sampling and tour with the venues. No Olympic authority of that time raised his voice, except for comments in the corridors that do not transcend in the decision making process, of course, the comfort and the benefits they receive as an institution inhibits them to reflect on this reality, a reality that belongs to a small group of countries, because the games are prohibitive for the vast majority who only see them from the outside as a mere spectator.

THE CASE OF SOCHI

2014, with the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will remain the most expensive in history. The final report indicates a cost of $51 billion. These numbers are surprising from the point of view of the games, but for the Russians this resort has become a tourist city par excellence, with transportation and hotel services of the highest level in the world.

From Sochi we go to Rio 2016, another hard blow for the Olympics, as Brazil spent a whopping 13.2 billion dollars, including a scandal of vote-buying and overpayments in the construction of the sports venues. Everything remained the same, giving way to the next games in London 2012: the English invested nearly 15 billion dollars and, later in Tokyo 2020+1, Japan invested 15.4 billion dollars, including pandemic.

WAS THIS THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT?

Half of this editorial has put the focus on the investments made directly and indirectly in the Summer and Winter Olympic Games of the last two decades, being hard data, which are available for a more detailed analysis, but our specialty and expertise is not in numbers, it is in provoking awareness and inviting to bare realities that are at odds with the spirit of Olympism itself.

I am surprised, but not stunned by the impassivity of the authorities and leaders who have endorsed and legitimized an almost ancestral practice, which is now colliding with the realization that they have fewer and fewer candidates to host the games. Proof of this is that in June 2017 the IOC had to accept the only two venues in the running to award the 2024 (Paris) and 2028 (Los Angeles) Olympic Games. To the extent that they put in a motion for both bids to agree on the order of hosting the games. Even more serious, for the 2032 Games, only Brisbane was left bidding, after Germany, China, Indonesia and Hungary dropped out, and the Australian city had to be ratified without competition in the voting.

IOC President Thomas Bach and Tony Estanguet of Paris 2024 at the UN. (William Volcov/Shutterstock)

Paris has the litmus test, not only from the budgetary point of view, which will be a third of the investments of the previous editions -both summer and winter-, it is estimated that they will invest 5,500 million dollars. The IOC wants the Games to be sustainable over time. It wants no more waste, no more passivity on the part of the International Olympic Committee’s own leaders, and it is calling for austerity in the organizing countries.

At the last IOC session in Mumbai, India, last year, the president of the Future Host Cities Commission, the Croatian Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, said to the surprise of the whole world: “I am pleased to announce that the number of interested countries has risen to more than 10. Under the new leadership of President Thomas Bach, the projects are more economical for the applicants,” she said.

The IOC has two years to seek concrete and real solutions to curb gigantism and countries that see sport as a great vehicle for internal politics, politics that can cross borders, but far removed from the values that Olympism develops and promotes. Only time will show whether the measures announced diffusely by the International Olympic Committee meet their expectations or, sooner or later, we will return to the reality of the last two decades, i.e.: sport is an instrument for higher purposes.

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